To­bacco gi­ant gets po­lice pro­tec­tion

Po­lice union Sapu wants to know who au­tho­rised of­fi­cers to guard to­bacco ve­hi­cles But SAPS top brass says there’s noth­ing un­to­ward in fight­ing truck hi­jack­ing

CityPress - - Front Page - SU­SAN COM­RIE and ABRAM MASHEGO in­ves­ti­ga­tions@city­press.co.za

For months, the no­to­ri­ous SA Po­lice Ser­vice (SAPS) tac­ti­cal re­sponse team, also known as the am­aBerete, was de­ployed in Lim­popo to pro­vide an armed po­lice es­cort to multi­na­tional cig­a­rette com­pany Bri­tish Amer­i­can To­bacco (BAT).

City Press has es­tab­lished that the ser­vice the SAPS per­formed for BAT of­ten en­tailed the soft task of tac­ti­cal re­sponse team mem­bers rid­ing in­side cig­a­rette vans from spaza shop to spaza shop as BAT em­ploy­ees car­ried out dayto-day de­liv­er­ies.

The prac­tice was ex­posed in Jan­uary af­ter mem­bers of the tac­ti­cal re­sponse team com­plained to the SA Polic­ing Union that they were be­ing used like pri­vate se­cu­rity guards by the multi­na­tional com­pany.

Var­i­ous sources have de­scribed how tac­ti­cal re­sponse team mem­bers were in­structed to dress in plain clothes while car­ry­ing their po­lice weapons, and were placed ei­ther in­side BAT cig­a­rette vans or in un­marked rental cars. A com­plaint to na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner Gen­eral Riah Phiyega reads in part: “The act placed these mem­bers’ lives in se­ri­ous dan­ger of pos­si­ble at­tack by fel­low po­lice of­fi­cers, as it would have been dif­fi­cult to iden­tify these mem­bers as they ex­e­cuted their ‘du­ties’ in civil­ian clothes.

“How does the SAPS plan to re­cover monies paid to these mem­bers dur­ing their ab­sence from the ac­tual con­trol and com­mand of [the] SAPS, and who will be held ac­count­able?” But the SAPS said there was noth­ing un­to­ward with pro­vid­ing such a ser­vice to BAT, say­ing they “pro­vide ob­ser­va­tions and es­corts to pre­vent crime from tak­ing place, or when we have cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence so that we can ef­fect ar­rests”. BAT said it had hired Fi­delity Se­cu­rity to pro­tect some of its ve­hi­cles, but that, “like all busi­nesses in South Africa, [BAT] is both en­cour­aged and en­ti­tled to call upon and re­ceive the sup­port of the SAPS”.

How­ever, other cig­a­rette com­pa­nies are cry­ing foul about the help the SAPS gives BAT while their ve­hi­cles are not pro­tected.

For months, the no­to­ri­ous SA Po­lice Ser­vice (SAPS) tac­ti­cal re­sponse team (TRT), also known as the am­aBerete, was de­ployed in Lim­popo to pro­vide an armed po­lice es­cort to multi­na­tional cig­a­rette com­pany Bri­tish Amer­i­can To­bacco (BAT). BAT, which sells such well-known brands as Peter Stuyvesant, Dun­hill and Roth­mans, boasts of hav­ing more than 85% of the cig­a­rette mar­ket in South Africa.

Yet de­spite declar­ing R81 bil­lion in profit from its global op­er­a­tion last year, BAT re­ceived po­lice pro­tec­tion for free.

The am­aBerete are an elite po­lice unit – they’ve been de­ployed in Marikana and to quell xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence. In other words, they work in risky sit­u­a­tions where or­di­nary po­lice of­fi­cers might strug­gle to cope with the sit­u­a­tion.

How­ever, City Press has es­tab­lished that the ser­vice they per­formed for BAT of­ten en­tailed the soft task of TRT mem­bers rid­ing shot­gun in­side cig­a­rette vans from spaza shop to spaza shop as BAT em­ploy­ees car­ried out day-to-day de­liv­er­ies.

The prac­tice was ex­posed in Jan­uary af­ter mem­bers of the TRT com­plained to the SA Polic­ing Union (Sapu) that they were be­ing treated like pri­vate se­cu­rity guards.

Sapu pres­i­dent Mpho Kwinika says they be­came con­cerned when they re­alised po­lice of­fi­cers were be­ing made to aban­don their day-to-day du­ties to guard a pri­vate com­pany.

“We wrote to the pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner [in Lim­popo] and, when we didn’t get a re­sponse, we wrote to the min­is­ter of po­lice seek­ing that the mat­ter be at­tended to,” says Kwinika.

Var­i­ous sources have de­scribed how TRT mem­bers were in­structed to dress in plain clothes while car­ry­ing their po­lice weapons, and were placed ei­ther in­side BAT cig­a­rette vans or in un­marked rental cars.

Sapu pro­vin­cial sec­re­tary Solly Bu­lala ex­plains: “Their work is to con­front – if they must shoot to save lives and prop­er­ties, they will do so. But you can’t take such peo­ple to in­ves­ti­gate cig­a­rettes. The po­lice must not be used like a pri­vate com­pany ... It’s de­mor­al­is­ing for them.”

In Jan­uary, Sapu sent a let­ter to Lim­popo pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Sehlahle Masemola de­mand­ing to know why po­lice man­age­ment had okayed “the util­i­sa­tion of SAPS mem­bers [TRT] to pro­tect for­eign busi­ness in­ter­ests”.

(BAT is reg­is­tered on stock ex­changes in New York, Lon­don and Johannesburg. Their head of­fice is in the UK, although their South African sub­sidiary, Bri­tish Amer­i­can To­bacco SA, is lo­cally reg­is­tered.)

City Press has also seen a copy of a sec­ond let­ter, for­warded by Sapu to na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner Gen­eral Riah Phiyega and other se­nior po­lice of­fi­cials, in which a ju­nior of­fi­cer, Lieu­tenant Boi­tumelo Ramahlaha, com­plains about the “se­ri­ous ex­ploita­tion” of the Polok­wane TRT mem­bers be­ing “de­ployed to work and trans­port cargo” for BAT.

“This placed these mem­bers’ lives in se­ri­ous dan­ger of pos­si­ble at­tack by fel­low po­lice of­fi­cers, as it would have been dif­fi­cult to iden­tify these mem­bers as they ex­e­cuted their ‘du­ties’ in civil­ian clothes,” the let­ter reads.

“How does the SAPS plan to re­cover monies paid to these mem­bers dur­ing their ab­sence from the ac­tual con­trol and com­mand of [the] SAPS, and who will be held ac­count­able?”

Hawks spokesper­son Bri­gadier Hang­wani Mu­laudzi is of the opin­ion that these al­le­ga­tions are a ploy by Ramahlala to di­vert at­ten­tion away from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion cur­rently on­go­ing against him.

Sapu says the Lim­popo SAPS agreed to stop us­ing TRT mem­bers in this way af­ter they com­plained, but the Hawks con­firmed that, in Lim­popo, other units of the po­lice were con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide “po­lice pa­trols as and when threats are de­tected” as “the Lim­popo po­lice man­age­ment com­mit­ted to work to­gether with BAT in ar­eas where at­tacks are preva­lent”.

“The de­ci­sion was taken in a man­age­ment meet­ing where the pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner, all deputy pro­vin­cial com­mis­sion­ers, clus­ter com­man­ders, sta­tion com­man­ders, com­po­nent heads and BAT man­age­ment com­mit­ted to work to­gether in light of es­ca­lat­ing at­tacks on their de­liv­ery vans,” Mu­laudzi said. “The po­lice have a vast and mul­ti­fac­eted role in so­ci­ety and do not nec­es­sar­ily act as crime fight­ers, but also pro­vide a range of ser­vices to the public.”

A COUN­TRY­WIDE SER­VICE

Sources say that BAT cig­a­rette vans have been re­ceiv­ing po­lice pro­tec­tion for at least two years. The po­lice would not com­ment on when the prac­tice started, but de­fended their de­ci­sion, say­ing it is aimed at re­duc­ing the high num­ber of cig­a­rette-truck hi­jack­ings.

“Our sta­tis­tics re­veal that the hi­jack­ing of BAT ve­hi­cles is at an un­ac­cept­able level and it re­quires a dif­fer­ent and more decisive tac­ti­cal ap­proach from both a crimepre­ven­tion as well as a crime-com­bat­ing point of view,” said Bri­gadier Vishnu Naidoo. “We pro­vide ob­ser­va­tions and es­corts so as to pre­vent crime from tak­ing place or when we have cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence so that we can ef­fect ar­rests.”

BAT says they have been par­tic­u­larly hard-hit by at­tacks on cig­a­rette trucks, with 1 412 of their ve­hi­cles be­ing tar­geted last year. Un­like other cig­a­rette com­pa­nies, BAT de­liv­ers its prod­ucts di­rectly to re­tail­ers, of­ten in distinc­tively marked vans that in­di­cate to hi­jack­ers that they are full of cig­a­rettes and cash.

SAPS na­tional spokesper­son Solomon Mak­gale told City Press: “Al­most all the cig­a­rette hi­jack­ings in­volve BAT prod­ucts.” He added that it was not the case that “each and ev­ery BAT ve­hi­cle out there on the road is be­ing es­corted by an SAPS ve­hi­cle. We pro­vide ob­ser­va­tions and es­corts if the risk iden­ti­fied war­rants such. If any of the cig­a­rette man­u­fac­tur­ers feel that they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hi­jack­ings, they are free to con­tact us ei­ther di­rectly or through the To­bacco In­dus­try of South­ern African or Con­sumer Goods Coun­cil of SA. BAT has its own se­cu­rity com­pany.”

Videos handed to City Press show that the SAPS strat­egy of­ten in­volves po­lice ve­hi­cles fol­low­ing BAT’s clearly marked cig­a­rette vans around as they carry out ev­ery­day de­liv­er­ies.

A video recorded in March shows what ap­pears to be a sec­tor polic­ing ve­hi­cle es­cort­ing a BAT cig­a­rette van around the Gaut­eng town­ship of Kag­iso. At one point they pull into a se­cure park­ing area be­hind a se­cu­rity gate of a su­per­mar­ket. While the BAT em­ployee de­liv­ers cig­a­rettes, the po­lice ve­hi­cle idles in the park­ing lot.

The same prac­tice is al­legedly hap­pen­ing in Vereenig­ing, Brits, Ga-Rankuwa, Mamelodi West and Them­bisa, as well as other prov­inces.

“They come to the sta­tion, then we give them es­corts to wher­ever they want to de­liver,” a po­lice of­fi­cer from Vereenig­ing said. “They don’t pay; it’s just to pre­vent the rob­beries.”

A for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer with knowl­edge of the prac­tice told City Press: “When the po­lice re­ceive a com­plaint, they es­cort the ve­hi­cle back to the po­lice sta­tion and then they go and at­tend to the com­plaint.

“The po­lice are not sup­posed to be re­ac­tive – you are meant to be vis­i­ble in your area, to pre­vent crime. But now these guys are sta­tion­ary in front of the spaza shop wait­ing for the de­liv­er­ies to go, while a crime is be­ing com­mit­ted [some­where else]. A com­plaint an of­fi­cer re­ceived [about another crime] could have been pre­vented if he was pa­trolling, driv­ing around.”

The for­mer SAPS man said of­fi­cers had raised ques­tions about who would pay for the petrol and wear and tear on po­lice ve­hi­cles, but they were told that at least the num­ber of cig­a­rette-truck hi­jack­ings was go­ing down.

In Kag­iso, when the Com­mu­nity Polic­ing Fo­rum (CPF) learnt that po­lice ve­hi­cles were be­ing used to pro­tect cig­a­rettes in­stead of mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, they asked for a meet­ing with sta­tion man­age­ment.

CPF chair­per­son Wil­helmina Mu­tane said: “There was a time we were say­ing: ‘We don’t have enough cars.’ All our cars were old – some­times it was old tyres, some­times the brake or the clutch – our cars were bro­ken. So we did ques­tion it with the SAPS. We said in that meet­ing: ‘This doesn’t work for us. They’re a busi­ness – let them hire their own se­cu­rity.’”

Of­fi­cial 2013/14 crime sta­tis­tics for Kag­iso record that there were 59 mur­ders, 581 cases of as­sault to cause griev­ous bod­ily harm, 708 house break-ins and 519 cases of rob­bery with ag­gra­vat­ing cir­cum­stances.

The num­ber of truck hi­jack­ings? Only three, although BAT and the po­lice say at­tacks on their trucks could be recorded as “other crimes”.

BIG PROFIT

BAT spokesper­son Tabby Tsen­giwe, re­spond­ing to City Press, said the com­pany had hired Fi­delity Se­cu­rity to pro­tect some of its ve­hi­cles but that “like all busi­nesses in South Africa [BAT] is both en­cour­aged and en­ti­tled to call upon and re­ceive the sup­port of the SAPS. No pay­ment for such public ser­vices have been re­quested by the SAPS of us and, in any event, this is a public ser­vice for which no pay­ment is ex­pected.”

The po­lice top brass deny BAT is be­ing of­fered spe­cial treat­ment and they in­sist they have of­fered sim­i­lar pro­tec­tion to fuel-de­liv­ery trucks, min­ing com­pa­nies in Marikana and, more re­cently, the Au­topax buses that were at­tacked in Mamelodi.

But many of BAT’s com­peti­tors are in­cred­u­lous. They say they have never been of­fered sim­i­lar ser­vices and de­mand to know why BAT is be­ing sub­sidised by the South African tax­payer.

The Fair-Trade In­de­pen­dent To­bacco As­so­ci­a­tion (Fita) says its mem­bers spend an es­ti­mated 20% of their ex­penses on se­cu­rity ser­vices, in­clud­ing hir­ing pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies to pro­tect their ve­hi­cles.

Fita spokesper­son Jo Eras­mus said: “No Fita mem­bers have ever been of­fered free or paid se­cu­rity ser­vices by the SAPS. “Fita mem­bers, who are pre­dom­i­nantly South African-owned com­pa­nies ... are pay­ing for very ex­pen­sive se­cu­rity ser­vices, which the SAPS pro­vide at no cost to the mo­nop­oly.”

Another to­bacco com­pany, Philip Mor­ris, which sells pop­u­lar brands such as Marl­boro and Ch­ester­field, also con­firmed they had never been of­fered or re­ceived this kind of ser­vice from the po­lice.

Yusuf Ka­jee, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Dur­ban-based Amal­ga­mated To­bacco Man­u­fac­tur­ing, said: “If the gov­ern­ment is giv­ing that ser­vice to one per­son in the in­dus­try, it must be given to all the peo­ple in the in­dus­try. I’d like the se­cu­rity as well.”

SAPSSA FREE-TRADE ZONE

Other videos and photos from po­lice sta­tions in Rand­fontein, Van­der­bi­jl­park and Le­na­sia show cus­tomers buy­ing cig­a­rettes and col­lect­ing stock from BAT ve­hi­cles parked in­side the park­ing lot of the po­lice sta­tion.

The for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer told City Press: “Say for ex­am­ple a ve­hi­cle is hav­ing a com­plaint and they can­not es­cort, then the public will come into the po­lice yard and buy the stocks. The guy in Rand­fontein told me he’s selling the stock in­side the yard be­cause the mem­ber who’s es­cort­ing him is off duty.”

Bri­gadier Vishnu Naidoo con­firmed that the SAPS did al­low BAT to trade in­side po­lice yards.

“In cer­tain ar­eas, given the po­ten­tially high risk fac­tor and our lim­ited re­sources, we do al­low this,” he said, adding that the po­lice had made sim­i­lar con­ces­sions for stokvels and bread and milk trucks.

OP­ER­A­TION BAT­MAN

The po­lice in­sist they are not pro­vid­ing free se­cu­rity ser­vices to BAT but are rather act­ing to com­bat crime sur­round­ing the hi­jack­ing of cig­a­rette rucks.

Sev­eral weeks ago they launched a new phase in their cam­paign, aimed at “in­ten­si­fy­ing the fight against hi­jack­ing of trucks car­ry­ing cig­a­rettes”. Called Op­er­a­tion BAT­man, the po­lice say the new op­er­a­tion has led to the ar­rests of 359 sus­pects and 8 417 car­tons of cig­a­rettes be­ing re­cov­ered.

De­spite the choice of name, the po­lice in­sist that “no cig­a­rette com­pany is ex­cluded”.

UN­HAPPY SAPU The let­ter the po­lice union sent to the pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner ask­ing for an ur­gent meet­ing to dis­cuss what it calls the ex­ploita­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers

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